Heart rate training can be confusing due to the many different types of terminology used and the many opinions on how we determine what our threshold zone is. Additionally, there are many different charts that give us a variety of ranges which adds to the confusion.
My aim as a coach is to make sure that you have a good understanding on how and why to test for heart rate zones, which training zones you should spend the most time in, and to make this a simple process.
We’ll start with the definition of Training Zones:
Zone 1 is a super easy zone
4/10 on the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
It’s so easy that you don’t think you went hard enough; it didn’t feel like a workout; you don’t think there was any benefit because it felt too easy, etc. If you have these types of thoughts after a Zone 1 workout, then congratulations, you are doing it right!
Zone 2 should still feel pretty easy, at least in the beginning
5- 6/10 on the RPE scale.
But you should feel as though you have to work if you’ve been doing this several hours. You may even see cardiac drift towards the end of this workout. The aim is to hold a conversation for the duration of the workout, meaning able to talk in full sentences and not 1 or 2 word gasps.
Zone 3 is a bit of a “grey”
7/10 on the RPE scale
You typically aren’t going easy enough to get the benefits of a nice easy effort and you aren’t going hard enough to get the benefits of a ‘Race Pace’ type workout. You mainly be able to talk at a broken conversation pace.
Zone 4 is your “Race Pace” zone
8/9+ on the RPE scale
This is where you have burning legs and lungs and you can’t keep the effort up for much more than an hour. You have to be quite fit to keep this effort up for an hour, but by definition, your threshold is an effort you can manage for one hour. You know when you are in Zone 4 as your arms, legs and breathing gets very heavy and all you want to do is stop.
Zone 5 and up are for shorter efforts
9+/10 on the RPE scale
These efforts may last from a few seconds to maybe five or six minutes. This zone is beneficial if you are doing a lot of racing that has hard but very short efforts.
Most athletes I am coaching are geared toward the longer distances.
Those races are lasting one hour or more.
For the average runner the percentage of zone training is outlined:
80-85% Zone 1 and Zone 2
15-20% Zone 3
10-15% Zone 4
2-5% of Zone 5
The importance of Zone 1 and Zone 2 Training
You build endurance, strength and durability while training in Z1 and Z 2.
Those training sessions help build capillary pathways that transport oxygen to your muscles and carry waste (lactate) away from your muscles.
The more capillary pathways that you can build, the more efficient you will be.
If at first you can’t keep your HR under Zone 2, then you need to slow down.
If that means you run for 3 minutes and walk for 2 minutes to keep your HR down then by all means do it.
For a fit athlete getting back into training, I recommend not training with the heart rate monitor for 2 weeks and then put it on once you have a sense of fitness coming back. You may find that training in Zone 2 and under is a step back, but you will see the progress over time and will be thankful you were patient enough to try this.
Adaptation for everyone will be different.
Some people will see changes right away, and for others it may take longer.
I hope you’ll follow these methods above in your training and see what great improvements training in Zone 1 and 2 will bring you.